Thu, Dec 13, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Barca’s Miami U-turn highlights culture divide


Barcelona’s decision to back out of next month’s La Liga match against Girona in Miami highlights the differences that epitomize the European and US models of sport, sports industry analysts said.

The Spanish league in September applied to move the Jan. 26 game to Florida from Catalonia, but met opposition from governing bodies that believe official matches must be held within the territory of the respective member association.

Spencer Harris, an assistant professor of sport management at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, had a simple explanation.

“In the US context, commercialization is firmly understood and accepted, whereas the same unadulterated tactics in Europe — whilst [they] may be desired by some — are more commonly frowned upon,” Harris said.

While many of soccer’s glamor clubs have played lucrative pre-season friendlies on US soil to build their brands, staging a competitive match abroad presents different challenges.

La Liga in August signed a 15-year agreement with Relevent Sports to play one league match per campaign in the US.

The proposal was met with criticism from players and clubs in Spain and also faces opposition from the Royal Spanish Football Federation, FIFA and UEFA.

“FIFA are all about commercialization of the game and all about growing wealth and remaining the dominant force in the global sports landscape,” Harris said. “But for FIFA, this is about politics and about defending the territorial rights of the associations, because if they don’t do that, chaos could ensue very quickly.”

A source close to the negotiations said that the match had been considered an excellent opportunity for Barcelona to expand their international brand while giving a boost to lesser-known Girona in the relatively untapped US market.

A successful staging of the game is also a key initiative for La Liga president Javier Tebas, a proponent of expanding the league’s reach into North America.

Despite the setback, the source said there is too much interest from US fans, with 50,000 people signing a petition saying they wanted the game in Miami.

Last month, La Liga filed a lawsuit against the federation, which turned down its application to move the game and whose president has protested the idea.

It is a far cry from leagues such as the NFL and NBA, which routinely send teams overseas for regular-season games.

“There is a lot more involved in this than say an NFL or an NBA team trying to play in Europe,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising. “It’s more complicated because you’ve got the Spanish football association and they are the governing body, so it’s not as easy as just the NFL deciding to play a game overseas where they control their own destiny.”

La Liga has pledged to persevere with a long-term strategy of taking games outside Spain.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top